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“Friendly place you chose to live,” Oliver muttered.

“You aren’t helping,” she said furiously. It would’ve been a whole lot better if he’d just gone home, taking his leftover pizza with him.

He made a resigned gesture and stepped back.

Emma folded her hands. “Please, Mr. Scott,” she implored. “I…only got Boots this afternoon. She was a stray—”

“You brought a stray into this complex?” He looked at her as if she were insane. “Do you have any idea what you’ve exposed your neighbors to?” He retreated a step as if he feared an infestation of some kind at any moment.

“But—”

“One week,” Mr. Scott intoned. “One week and you’re out.”

“One week,” she echoed, aghast.

“I want you and that…that mutt out of here one week from today.”

Both dogs growled when she closed the door.

“Now what am I going to do?” she asked Oliver. Money was already tight, and she couldn’t possibly come up with first and last month’s rent in that short a time.

Chapter Eleven

I’ve had the honor to cook for seven presidents of the United States here at the Waldorf-Astoria. Unless President Bush asks me to make it, fruitcake isn’t on the menu.

—John Doherty, executive chef,

The Waldorf-Astoria

“I have to move,” Emma moaned to Phoebe when she arrived at The Dungeon the next morning.

“What happened?” Good friend that she was, Phoebe immediately rolled her chair across the aisle.

“It’s a long story.” Emma didn’t want to explain just now; it would take half the morning and she had an article to write. What bothered her most wasn’t the problem of having to be out of her apartment in seven days. That was bad enough, but it wasn’t what had kept her up half the night. Instead, all she could think about was Oliver’s kiss. By morning, with her eyes burning from lack of sleep, she hoped she’d never see him again. It wasn’t true, though, Emma admitted reluctantly. She very much wanted to be with him, and that frightened her. Maybe she wasn’t so different from her mother, after all.

“I have news,” Phoebe whispered.

Emma glanced up expectantly.

“Walt and I are having some…serious conversations.”

“That’s great.” The look in Phoebe’s eyes was rapturous, suggesting that the couple was on the brink of announcing their engagement.

“Unfortunately Walt’s having a problem telling anyone at the office that we’re seeing each other.”

Even Emma hadn’t known until just recently. She was astonished that they’d managed to keep their romance such a well-guarded secret.

“He wants to wait awhile,” Phoebe said. She lowered her voice again as someone came down the stairs and passed their cubicles. “I don’t know why, but Walt seems to think we should wait until after the holidays.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know.”

“And you agreed?” Emma asked. Like Phoebe, she didn’t understand Walt’s hesitation. She doubted anyone at the office would object to his relationship with Phoebe. There might be a few raised eyebrows, but so what?

“I think Walt’s concerned about setting a good example. You know—doing things the way his father would. I mentioned that, but he denies it.”

“I guess this means I won’t be able to move in with you if I don’t have a new apartment by next week?” Emma muttered. “It would only be for a few days—until I can find a place.”

Phoebe frowned. “In case you’ve forgotten, I only have a one-bedroom apartment and my sofa’s pretty ratty. What’s going on, anyway? I was so absorbed in my own news that I’d completely ignored yours.”

“I have a dog now.”

“A dog?” Phoebe’s eyes rounded with surprise.

“Like I said, it’s a long story.”

“That no doubt involves Oliver Hamilton.”

“How’d you guess?” Emma sighed. “Although I’d like to blame Oliver, the dog sort of chose me. Now I have to move because the landlord is dead set against animals.”

“In other words, you’re desperate?”

Emma sighed again; she still had six days. “Close, but not panicking yet.”

“I’m sorry, but I can’t have a dog, either,” Phoebe said. “I’ll check and see if a visiting dog is allowed, okay?”

Emma was grateful; this was a lot to ask, but she might not have any other choice. She wouldn’t need to move in until next week—if at all. She’d certainly do her best to find something else before that.

“How did the interview go? The one in Colville?” Phoebe asked.

“Really well.” Emma glanced longingly toward her blank computer screen. “I have all my notes, but do me a favor, would you? Don’t let Walt know I’m here just yet. He’s going to want this article and I haven’t even started writing it. I intended to, but then…Well, it’s complicated.”

“Oliver Hamilton is somehow involved, right?” This was becoming a refrain.

“Isn’t he always involved?” Emma said, reaching in her briefcase for her notes on Sophie McKay.

As she’d told Phoebe, she wanted to blame Oliver for her current troubles, but that would be decidedly unfair. In bringing Boots home with her, Emma had taken a calculated risk. Now she had to write this article and quickly, because she needed to spend her lunch hour making phone calls. At least she had access to the very latest rental listings, she told herself. If only she could find a decent place that allowed pets and required a minimum cash outlay…

Without wasting another moment, she began drafting her article.

Lessons from Fruitcake: Sophie McKay

Sophie McKay, the second of the Washington State finalists in the Good Homemaking fruitcake contest, resides in Colville, the seat of Stevens County in the northeast part of our diverse state.

Sophie believes her entry, Chocolate Fruitcake, caught the judges’ interest because it was different. She first created this fruitcake with its unusual mixture of ingredients during the Depression. Her husband, Harry, claimed to hate fruitcake, but it was an important aspect of Christmas for Sophie. Her compromise was to use his favorite foods and flavors—including chocolate.

Although Harry’s been dead for twenty years, Sophie continues to bake the fruitcake in his honor. And while the ingredients are indeed unusual, what makes Sophie’s fruitcake special are the memories she bakes into each one.

In life, as in fruitcake, this mother of two adult sons reminds us all to use the ingredients we love. For her that includes cultivating a beautiful garden, rereading her beloved husband’s wartime letters, feeding and caring for any cat that comes her way. And, of course, enjoying her family and friends.

Sophie says we shouldn’t skimp on the “ingredients” that matter to us, at Christmas or any other time. Like her, we should surround ourselves with family members and friends and share stories and laughter with them. We should cherish our memories and treat all creatures with kindness. We—

Hearing someone approach, Emma looked up to discover Oliver Hamilton leaning against the partition in the narrow aisle that separated her cubicle from Phoebe’s. At first, she was too shocked to respond.

“Hi,” she managed, before her throat went completely dry.

“Hi, yourself. I don’t suppose you’ve had a chance to check out new apartments yet?”

“Ah—no, not yet.” As it was, Emma had barely made it to work on time. After she’d dropped Boots off at a veterinarian Oliver had recommended, she’d been hard pressed to get to the office by nine.

“Well…” Oliver wore a cocky grin. “I have good news. There’s a vacant apartment on Cherry Street. The tenant got married and he’s already moved out. It’ll be available right away.”

This was a lovely area of Puyallup and within walking distance of the office. The cherry trees that lined the boulevard gave the street its name; they bloomed each spring in a profusion of pink blossoms. Apartments there were coveted and hard to come by. “Cherry Street?”

He nodded. “If you want, I can pick you up at lunchtime and you can take a look.”

“How much?” Not only were those apartments at a premium, but more than likely they’d be way out of her price range.

“Same as you’re paying now,” Oliver said, seeming pleased with himself.

This sounded too good to be true, and things that sounded too good to be true generally were. But just maybe…“What about the first and last month’s rent?”

Oliver shrugged as if this were a minor consideration. “A friend of mine owns the complex, and he said if your credit rating’s okay, he’d be willing to waive that.”

“Wow.” This came from Phoebe.

“Boots won’t be a problem?”

“Not at all. But Jason will want a $150 deposit in case of damage.”

Only a hundred and fifty dollars—this was unbelievable. She’d expected it to be much more than that. She’d heard of apartments that asked for five-hundred-dollar deposits when the tenant owned a pet. Emma wondered for a moment whether Oliver had gotten his facts straight. No, wait. There had to be something he wasn’t telling her. “No strings attached?” she asked with a skeptical look.

Oliver raised both hands. “None.”

Emma felt as if she’d won the lottery. “How come?” She didn’t want to examine this gift too closely, but she was still terrified there might be a catch.

Oliver ignored her question.

“Oliver?” she persisted.

“Oh, all right. Jason owes me a favor. I flew him and his wife to San Francisco—and I promised I’d do it again.”

“Oh…”

“I put a hold on it for you, but Jason said he can’t keep the apartment off the market any longer than one o’clock this afternoon.”

“I’ll take it.” Emma didn’t want to risk losing this opportunity. She smiled at Oliver.

“Sight unseen?” he asked.

“Maybe you’d better go see the place,” Phoebe cautioned. “In fact, you should go now.”

Emma nodded; her friend was right. Still, she hesitated. Walt would be looking for that article and all she had was an unfinished rough draft. She was going to need several hours to work on it and to shape it into the piece she wanted it to be.

“We’ll take thirty, forty minutes, tops,” Oliver said. “We can run over, do a quick tour and you can make up your mind then.”

“I’ll cover for you,” Phoebe promised.

“But Walt—”

“Don’t worry. If Walt asks where you are, I’ll explain the situation to him. He’ll understand.”

“Won’t he be upset if he finds me skipping out in the middle of the morning?”

Phoebe’s eyes brightened and she shook her head. “Let me take care of that.”

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